The standards and competition between national drinks and wine distributors in the UK is arguably the highest in the world. Each one can point to their own wall of trophies and awards, so how as a sommelier and premium on-trade buyer do you decide which one is right for you? Well, that ultimately comes down to the people that are the real DNA of how these companies work. Here The Buyer goes behind the scenes at Alliance Wine to talk to its senior on-trade sales team to find out how they work, build relationships with customers and what it is they think they do that makes them stand out from the rest.
In February the Catena Institute published a report into the terroir of Malbec that offered scientific evidence to ‘irrefutably prove’ that terroir exists and is not just a concept dreamed up by the French. Discussing the findings, and broadening the discussion into related fields such as climatology, was a panel of experts that included Laura Catena, journalist Jane Anson and professors from Oregon, Bordeaux, Burgundy and Mendoza. Will historic terroir designations need to be altered in the future to reflect climate change? Should we talk about ecosystems rather than terroir? And will this type of research help to sustain consumer demand for high quality wines? All this and more was discussed while David Kermode took notes.
All eyes are on the Tokyo Olympics of course, which are coping with an unprecedented level of restriction, so now seemed as good a time as any to find out how Ayana Misawa, winemaker at Grace Wine, one of Japan’s leading wineries, is coping as a winemaker. The interview is the first of a new series The Buyer is running throughout the summer with key influential winemakers across the globe. We want to know from the people who actually make the wine how has their life been in the past 18 months? What additional challenges have they faced as winemakers? And how are they adapting to the new normal?
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Before picking up a pen, notebook, wine glass and spittoon for a living, David Kermode spent much of his career working in one of the most stressful jobs possible running live TV news and shouting instructions into the ears of highly paid news broadcasters, whilst desperately trying to keep to deadlines and keep the whole show on the road. As a drinks writer he has once again returned to his broadcast days by starting his own podcast – The Drinking Hour on Food FM – where he hopes to bring a fresh approach to wine and spirits on the airwaves. Here he shares some of the highs and lows from his high profile national TV days and just what he thinks makes a good podcast work.
Personal spittoons and personal sommeliers… it’s the return of physical wine tastings. Fifteen months on from attending a physical wine tasting, journalist and winemaker Chris Wilson headed to London for not one but two physical tastings – the Georgian wine trade tasting and the Wines From Spain annual tasting. Both events were run on entirely different models –a walkaround style close to ‘old school’ wine tastings and a sit-down style where personal sommeliers serve you. So what were the key benefits and disadvantages of both models?
Elisha Rai and Tom Cannon are not the first to have enjoyed a successful career in the City before swapping careers to go into English wine, but Rai is one of the first to have done so from a BAME background. Here they explain how they are looking to bring a very different approach to English wine, by focusing on creating a rosé brand – Folc – using grapes bought by the best producers they can find in Kent and Sussex. A brand that was launched in lockdown and has already picked up medals in the IWSC and IWC awards – only one of two English rosés to have done so.
Managing to evade the rigours of Lockdown, quarantine and self-isolation, Geoffrey Dean travelled to the Wines of Portugal Challenge in Santarem. His job was to take part as a judge but he also managed to get out and about and get a snapshot of contemporary Portuguese winemaking through the eyes of six very different winemakers – from the small and unrepresented in the UK, right through to the second largest producer in Portugal. On top of getting an idea of what the challenges are facing the winemakers here, Dean also got a chance to try many wines and recommends the ones that stood out on the day.
The last 15 months have polarised the on and off-trades like never before. Whilst retailers struggled to keep up with demand from customers holed up at home for much of the time, the on-trade has either been completely shut or operating on half measures, dictated to by the rule of six and social distancing rules. But rather than look enviously at what the off-trade has been able to do, Harry Crowther believes the best on-trade operators will be taking lessons, analysing what wines were actually sold and then use those findings in re-imagining the wine offers in their restaurants, bars and pubs. Here he explains why.
Since Condor Wines was established in 2011, it has carved a niche as one of the UK’s foremost importers of wines from Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. To celebrate its 10th anniversary, Condor’s founder, Lee Evans, hosted a day of webinar sessions with representatives from several of the really interesting wineries with which he works, comparing and contrasting their different regions and enlightening us on the challenges and opportunities they face now and in the future.
“We have had an exciting 12 months and been able to launch a whole number of concepts into the market,” is how David Rowledge, owner of Alchemy Wines, looks back at what he says has undoubtedly been the busiest and arguably the most rewarding year of his career in the wine and drinks industry, which has culminated in the community.co charity drinks range and a new wine brand with former England cricketer Phil Tufnell.
After 18 months of Zoom tastings and mini samples, this July’s generic Wines of Spain tasting was an opportunity to experience the real live thing, albeit through Covid-safe protocol. Here Justin Keay found further proof that with closer attention to soil, climate, altitude and the nuances of individual grape varieties Spain is truly becoming one of the world’s most interesting producer nations. The tasting covered all of the country’s regions providing an exciting opportunity to taste lesser-known wines from increasingly-improving regions of Ribeiro and Txakoli. Afterwards Keay had an audience with Paula Fandino from Mar de Frades.
Breaking industry news does not normally happen on a Sunday afternoon, but just as many in the trade might have been thinking about what bottle of wine to open for Sunday lunch, news broke that would have got many reaching for a bottle of fizz to celebrate the surprise government u-turn that it was to scrap completely its intention to introduce what the wine sector saw as expensive and dangerous VI-1 forms on future wine imports from the EU. The Buyer looks back on the efforts made by so many in the wine industry, driven by the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, to stand up to Whitehall bureaucracy which showed how strong the sector can be when it has the support of all its influential leaders and a sympathetic ear in the financial and business press.
Wine expert LM Archer discovers Lugana Riserva white wines and Bardolino reds from Northern Italy from producers Le Morette, Le Fraghe, Rizzardi, Zenato, and Ca’ Lojera and argues that they are a match for red and white Burgundy at a fraction of the price. The Consorzio di Tutela Chiaretto e Bardolino has been busy of late, putting its weight behind a charm offensive to promote this ancient wine region at the southern tip of Lake Garda, showcasing its two-year aged white Riservas and reintroducing three historic sub-zones developed during the 19th century. These include the northern foothills of Montebaldo, the morainic, more Mediterranean, lakeside hills of La Rocca, and – warmer still – the, southern, gravelly hills of Sommacampagna.
South American wine expert Amanda Barnes is in no doubt – Itata really does have it all. Incredible old vines, artisanal producers, ancient granite soils, unique grape varieties and a mild climate where dry farming and sustainable viticulture come with ease. It has old vines to rival the pre-phylloxera ‘ancestors’ of Barossa Valley in Australia, its revolution is just as notable as that of the Swartland in South Africa, and yet, Itata is still somewhat under the radar for most wine drinkers. Here’s why Barnes think that’s set to change.
Every wine producer has a vineyard or site that gives that little bit more and works that little bit harder – with the wines produced from it being synonymous with the name of the estate. For the great Burgundy producer Joseph Drouhin that place is the Clos des Mouches, a 14 hectare vineyard acquired 100 years ago by Maurice Drouhin, that sits between Corton Charlemagne, Pommard and Puligny Montrachet. The red and white Premier Cru wines that come from this rare monopole are legendary in Burgundy, but that wasn’t always the case. In the 1980s the family realised the soil was dying and something had to be done quick to bring it back to life.
The London Wine Competition is looking to build on the success of its 2021 awards by calling out to supermarkets, specialist drinks retailers and wine merchants to enter the 2022 awards and give their wines an extra push by vying for Golds and Trophies in the only major international drinks competition that judges wines by their quality, their price, value for money and what they look like. Any business that enters their wines before August 31 can take advantage of Super Early Bird pricing.
In just over a decade Mirabeau has become not just one of the most recognisable, influential and fastest growing Provence rosé brands, it has successfully crossed a line few wine brands have been able to achieve and become a lifestyle brand in its own right. So much so that other household lifestyle brands, particularly from fashion and health and beauty, are keen to bask in the halo effect from the aspirational, escapist Provence imagery that Mirabeau has captured so well. Here founder Stephen Cronk, in the second part of his extensive interview with The Buyer, explains how the business plan for Mirabeau was to create a brand from day one and the steps they have taken to make it happen.
The fine wine world is increasingly taking stock of the great Italian white wines that are on offer, as their quality improves. One case in point is Verdicchio which often used to be just about the Anfora bottle and nothing else – this was a white wine that punters used to chill with ice cubes. One of Italy’s leading Verdicchio producers, Sartarelli, showed its latest vintages to wine consultant Douglas Blyde, who explains the background to the wines and why this Marches-based producer is consistently picking up the major gongs at the wine competitions.
Nika Tiki is a Lanchester Wines best-seller, a flagship Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that’s a firm favourite with the on-trade and its customers. So Lanchester’s director of purchasing, Lesley Cook, was facing a potential crisis when it became apparent that Marlborough’s 2021 vintage was going to have incredibly small yields. To make matters worse, such was the popularity of the previous vintage that there was nothing left from 2020. Add in a sharp increase in shipping costs and it looked like the perfect storm. Here, Cook tells David Kermode how she needed to work fast, to secure an alternative supply from South Africa, creating a new wine, Moloko Bay, that replicates the characteristics of Nika Tiki, without replacing it.